Brewery’s new summer offerings reflect growth of region’s agribusiness

Saugatuck Brewing Company, one of Michigan's largest independently owned craft breweries, is working to increase its impact on the region's $2.177 billion agribusiness sector.

The Allegan County-based brewery's newest effort to grow its market share is a new Shandy Variety Pack. This nod to West Michigan’s famed Fruit Belt that Saugatuck Brewing calls home offers beer enthusiasts a taste of the orchards.

“SBC recognizes that today’s consumers are looking for more fruit-forward, approachable styles when it comes to the beer they drink,” says John Miller, the brewing company’s new CEO. “The Shandy Variety Pack shines a spotlight on more of Michigan's most cherished fruits, featuring blueberry, strawberry, peach, and black cherry flavors.” 

Miller joined the growing brewery last May after 34 years in the brewery business, including 22 years with Anheuser Busch.

Fruit-belt inspiration

Springboarding off the success of its Blueberry Lemonade Shandy, which launched in the summer of 2017 and quickly became SBC’s biggest brand, the brewer is drawing more inspiration from orchards of West Michigan. 

Although the fruit in the concentrates used to make the shandies aren't exclusively from West Michigan, the region's fruit belt served as inspiration. The packaging pays homage to the experience of going out and picking your own fruit in West Michigan orchards.

"What's fun to me about being new to the area is seeing this phenomenon of people going out and walking through the fields and picking their own blueberries and apples," Miller says. "That's a big deal here."

The shandies were unveiled in launch parties at the three breweries over the weekend. They will be on tap through the summer, and in March variety packs will head to stores in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana. 

Active in community

Brewery operations are located in the rural community of Douglas, the sister city of the town with the name that inspired the brewery's moniker. It's next to the brewery's original pub.

The brewery has expanded geographically in recent years, opening locations in Grand Rapids' Creston neighborhood and in Kalamazoo. The workforce tops 140 people. 

"We have a pretty significant impact on Western Michigan and pay a lot of taxes and have a lot of employees that work and live and participate in the communities that we serve. That's something that's very important to us,” Miller says. “We work a lot with the Chamber of Commerce and in the Douglas area, as well as other organizations. So we participate quite a bit in the community."

Douglas Mayor Cathy North agrees.

“They have graciously opened their doors to support numerous school and community fundraisers,” she says of SBC. “By providing a welcoming venue for these events, the brewery fosters a sense of unity and camaraderie among residents who are raising crucial funds for worthy causes,” 

The brewery is the city’s 21st largest taxpayer, significantly bolstering its financial resources. But North says the brewery’s economic impact goes beyond that.

“In essence, Saugatuck Brewing Company is not merely a business entity but a catalyst for community growth and prosperity,” the mayor says. “Their dedication to both economic success and social responsibility sets a commendable example for other businesses to emulate.”

Part of growing agribusiness sector

The brewery features one of the only active brew-on-premise facilities in Michigan, using five copper kettles and an array of natural ingredients and recipes.

A significant portion of SBC’s production team works at the Douglas headquarters. About 15 people work in the back with the company’s team of brewers and canners. The organization’s pub has a huge staff of employees during the summer.

The success of SBC reflects the overall growth of the region’s agribusiness sector, from food manufacturing to crop production. In 2022, the industry contributed to 9.26% of Allegan and Ottawa County’s total gross regional product (GRP). Since 2007, these industries have increased their total GRP from $930.7 million to $2.177 billion, which is 1.34 times the initial amount. In comparison, the overall GRP grew at a rate of 0.84 times during the same period, according to Lakeshore Advantage, the economic development organization for Ottawa and Allegan counties.
“Lakeshore Advantage has identified the agribusiness and food processing industry as one that is expected to grow in this region over the coming years,” says Amanda Murray, vice president of business solutions for Lakeshore Advantage. “This industry provides good-paying jobs for residents, and our team will be providing specialized expansion and retention support services to help businesses in this industry cluster succeed here.”

Saugatuck Brewing Company’s footprint covers 13 states and seven foreign countries, and the company has plans for continued growth. 

"From a brewery standpoint, we are the second-largest brewery in the state of Michigan that's still owned by people in Michigan working in Michigan,” Miller says. “We're very proud of that. And it's one of the things that I think is very much a point of differentiation between us and other breweries."
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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.